Coin-sized solar panels to protect koalas from bushfires


The solar-powered koala tag technology was developed by koala ecologist Dr Romane Cristescu and her team at the University of the Sunshine Coast, and was recently awarded funding from the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Australia for development of the device.

Dr Cristescu and her team had previously developed a solar-powered bluetooth koala ear tag, but signals from the device were only able travel 20 to 30 metres. With additional funding from WWF-Australia’s Regenerate Australia grant, Dr Cristescu and PhD candidate Kye McDonald will develop the same sized ear tag though this time using Very High Frequency (VHF) technology instead, which can be picked up for hundreds of metres.

Dr Cristescu with the solar-powered koala location tag

WWF Australia

“VHF solar ear tags will enable us to locate koalas and take them into care when a large bushfire is approaching. Once the danger has passed, and their forest home is regenerating, we can return the koalas,” Dr Cristescu said.

“In those first few months after koalas are returned to the wild we can find them again and do a visual health check to make sure they’re getting enough food. If necessary we can take them back into care.

“The ear tags are light and because they’re powered by a solar panel there is no need for a battery which needs changing every six months. We believe these ear tags will last for the life of the koala.”

The ear tags are light and do not require battery changes.

WWF Australia

WWF-Australia last week announced it’s invested $1.32 million into innovative projects designed to help wildlife survive and recover from bushfires, including the solar-powered koala tag project.

“As part of our vision to Regenerate Australia, we’re re-imagining how to solve the challenges facing our wildlife and wild places,” WWF-Australia’s CEO Dermot O’Gorman said.

“Bold new ideas are crucial to help restore species and landscapes, build their resilience, and adapt to a changing climate. That’s why, coming off the back of the 2020 bushfires, WWF ran a national innovation challenge – Innovate to Regenerate.

“We are investing $1.32 million in nine amazing innovators to develop the proof of concept or in some cases run a pilot or scale up their project.”

It is not clear precisely how much of the $1.32 million in funding was awarded to the solar-powered ear tag or whether the funding was evenly split between each if the nine projects, which included a temporary cardboard homes for wildlife as well as a study on the role of wombat burrows in helping animals shelter from fires and predators.

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